Testing Common Design

| 42 Comments

Recently I’ve been thinking that it might be possible to test a subset of creationist arguments: that molecular similarities are better explained by common design than common descent.

I believe that using a Bayes factor-based analysis along the lines of Theobald (2010) would be the appropriate approach. Not only would this force the construction a positive model of design (a first in creationism), but one can also integrate over the different intelligent designers that the DI likes to throw out there. So whether Hanuman, God, Jesus, God, the Holy Ghost, God, Richard Dawkins, God, Moses, God, Uranus, God, Thor, God, Prof. X, or God is the true common designer (or a mixture of the ones above), they all can be included in the model.

Of course, ID advocates would probably insist on using a Dirac delta function as the prior.

42 Comments

You forgot the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Antipasta much?

I’d LOVE to see the creationist math behind pseudogenes.

So the creationist argument would be the integral over r from -∞ to +∞ of ΣiGi(r) δ(r - ri) where

Gi(r) is the ith god as function of r which equals 1 if the god exists and 0 if it does not exist, and

ri is the four-vector location of the ith god’s abode.

I too think about this (probably more than I should)… so…

What and how have you decided to quantify?

One of the ‘issues’ with ID is that they continue to insist on ‘function’ as an important concept within their systems. Since that’s non-quantifiable, do you plan on taking that into account.

If you’re going to do a straight DNA or protein sequence comparison, then I would encourage you to include truly random sequences as a control.

Does common design explain why humans are most similar, among all living things, to chimps and bonobos?

Does that mean that we have common purposes? That to fulfill the goals of the common design we ought to behave like apes?

TomS said:

Does common design explain why humans are most similar, among all living things, to chimps and bonobos?

Does that mean that we have common purposes? That to fulfill the goals of the common design we ought to behave like apes?

Natural selection and common descent have nothing to do with morality or behavior.

The simple fact that we do behave much like primates (including love, supporting injured, mourning the dead, protecting our children, etc) is just additional evidence that we are social animals much like many primates species.

‘Why’ is not a question for science. ‘How’ is the question for science.

However, if you are curious, then I suspect that most people act correctly because we are social animals and we act according to the culture and society we grew up in. As a whole, the individuals in a group have designated appropriate behavior for individuals within that group. Threats and application of punishment are used to enforce the standards of the culture for those who do no voluntarily act as society dictates.

Nothing magic about it.

TomS said:

Does common design explain why humans are most similar, among all living things, to chimps and bonobos?

Does that mean that we have common purposes? That to fulfill the goals of the common design we ought to behave like apes?

Behave like bonobos? From what I hear, if humans casually greeted each other the way bonobos do, they’d be arrested.

OgreMkV said:

TomS said:

Does common design explain why humans are most similar, among all living things, to chimps and bonobos?

Does that mean that we have common purposes? That to fulfill the goals of the common design we ought to behave like apes?

Natural selection and common descent have nothing to do with morality or behavior.

The simple fact that we do behave much like primates (including love, supporting injured, mourning the dead, protecting our children, etc) is just additional evidence that we are social animals much like many primates species.

‘Why’ is not a question for science. ‘How’ is the question for science.

However, if you are curious, then I suspect that most people act correctly because we are social animals and we act according to the culture and society we grew up in. As a whole, the individuals in a group have designated appropriate behavior for individuals within that group. Threats and application of punishment are used to enforce the standards of the culture for those who do no voluntarily act as society dictates.

Nothing magic about it.

I don’t know, Ogre, I think I detected some snark in TomS’s question. It’s the creationist line “if you teach kids they’re descended from apes, they’ll act like apes” - except that he’s applying it to design rather than descent.

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne said:

I don’t know, Ogre, I think I detected some snark in TomS’s question. It’s the creationist line “if you teach kids they’re descended from apes, they’ll act like apes” - except that he’s applying it to design rather than descent.

Kids will behave like apes no matter what you tell them, but if you tell them they’re apes, they’re more likely to grow up to be intellectually honest.

Matt G said:

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne said:

I don’t know, Ogre, I think I detected some snark in TomS’s question. It’s the creationist line “if you teach kids they’re descended from apes, they’ll act like apes” - except that he’s applying it to design rather than descent.

Kids will behave like apes no matter what you tell them, but if you tell them they’re apes, they’re more likely to grow up to be intellectually honest.

I once showed one of my classes a video of chimpanzees. It showed the ostrization and murder of one of the tribe. It had one of lower class males sneaking around and mating with a female. It showed a female of higher status taking food from a lower ranked female. It showed the chimps caring for an injured tribe member and the mourning and ‘ceremony’ that ocurred after the death. It also showed a hunting party using chase and ambush tactics.

The kids really got it then. These monkey’s just weren’t animals, they were animals that acted just like they did. It was a pretty stunning revelation for those that paid attention.

I’d ask TomS if he continually has to repress his desire to murder, rape, and pillage, but I don’t really want to know.

I know, that in spite of being an atheist, I never have major desires to rape, murder, and pillage. I will admit to being frustrated enough to occasionally want to impart information with a baseball bat, but that’s not really my problem… it’s a problem with people who are ignorant and proud of it.

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne said: I don’t know, Ogre, I think I detected some snark in TomS’s question. It’s the creationist line “if you teach kids they’re descended from apes, they’ll act like apes” - except that he’s applying it to design rather than descent.

I’m sorry that I didn’t make that “snark” more evident.

TomS said: I’m sorry that I didn’t make that “snark” more evident.

Be aware that the Pandas have dysfunctional irony meters, that particular instrument having been heavily overloaded on a regular basis.

OgreMkV said:

I once showed one of my classes a video of chimpanzees. It showed the ostrization and murder of one of the tribe. It had one of lower class males sneaking around and mating with a female. It showed a female of higher status taking food from a lower ranked female. It showed the chimps caring for an injured tribe member and the mourning and ‘ceremony’ that ocurred after the death. It also showed a hunting party using chase and ambush tactics.

The kids really got it then. These monkey’s just weren’t animals, they were animals that acted just like they did. It was a pretty stunning revelation for those that paid attention.

I’d ask TomS if he continually has to repress his desire to murder, rape, and pillage, but I don’t really want to know.

I know, that in spite of being an atheist, I never have major desires to rape, murder, and pillage. I will admit to being frustrated enough to occasionally want to impart information with a baseball bat, but that’s not really my problem… it’s a problem with people who are ignorant and proud of it.

Do you remember the name of the video?

OgreMkV said: I once showed one of my classes a video of chimpanzees.

I recall a story of an animal researcher who showed a video at a conference, in which a chimp drops a piece of food outside its enclosure – and then points to it, with the keeper picking it up and handing it back to the chimp. The researcher commented: “I maintain there is a well-trained primate in this video, but it is not the chimpanzee.”

Yeah, I hate April 1st. We ought to rename it “Poe’s Law Day”.

The link to Bayes factors just re-links to this post. What is the correct link?

OgreMkV said:

Yeah, I hate April 1st. We ought to rename it “Poe’s Law Day”.

Although I didn’t mean this as a prank.

Seriously, if someone believes that we are purposefully designed to be so similar to chimps and other apes (rather than it just being the result of natural laws and chance) and one believes that our morality comes from our design, how do they get away from telling their kids that they should behave like apes?

TomS said:

OgreMkV said:

Yeah, I hate April 1st. We ought to rename it “Poe’s Law Day”.

Although I didn’t mean this as a prank.

Seriously, if someone believes that we are purposefully designed to be so similar to chimps and other apes (rather than it just being the result of natural laws and chance) and one believes that our morality comes from our design, how do they get away from telling their kids that they should behave like apes?

I think kids should behave like apes. No sense in teaching them to behave like cetaceans, monitor lizards, or octopuses. I certainly wouldn’t want them to behave like kids!

TomS said:

OgreMkV said:

Yeah, I hate April 1st. We ought to rename it “Poe’s Law Day”.

Although I didn’t mean this as a prank.

Seriously, if someone believes that we are purposefully designed to be so similar to chimps and other apes (rather than it just being the result of natural laws and chance) and one believes that our morality comes from our design, how do they get away from telling their kids that they should behave like apes?

Seriously, I’m not sure what you are getting at? What do you want them to act like?

Our society, our culture determines what they SHOULD act like. The standards for what is appropriate has changed over the time periods of human society.

There is no universal morality. I personally believe that slavery, stoning, rape, and women as property is wrong… which puts me at odds with a big chunk of Biblical law and practices. So what? Our society is different and arguably better than the society of Judea 2000-3000 years ago.

Our BIOLOGY influences how we react to our society. We are social creatures. The genes and memes that influence our behavior to our tribe have proven to be very successful and thus have been carried over for a few million years.

So yes, how we behave is both evolutionary and biological. Does that mean we don’t love? Of course not.

He’s getting at two ridiculous claims of ID, where we are only similar to other apes through “Common Design,” and the metaphysical argument that Design gives us purpose whereas “just random accidental chance” doesn’t. He’s sending up those arguments by implying that our common design with other primates means we have a common “purpose” as other primates, which is something very few IDists would agree with.

Natural selection and common descent have nothing to do with morality or behavior.

I think morality and behavior are largely consequences of natural selection and common descent. Morality (or a propensity for morality), in particular, seems likely to be an evolved trait. Patricia Churchland seems to think the same thing, but I haven’t finished her book yet.

1) Common descent is the position of people who care about truth and evidence. This group of people will change what they say according to what the evidence shows. Common descent predicts common biochemical pathways.

2) Magic “design” is the position of a group of people who merely defend a self-serving propaganda position no matter what any evidence shows. It makes no predictions; in fact, they deliberately structure their claims to be able to deny making an actual prediction. Their proclamations are as informative as a broken clock.

3) If biochemical pathways were substantially different across different lineages (which they are not, but if they were), both groups of people would call this a challenge for common descent - one group by following the evidence, and the other group because that is what they will say no matter what.

4) Since biochemical pathways are remarkably conserved across all of life, the people who care about objective evidence say that common descent is supported. The other group of people just keep saying “design” because that is what they will say no matter what.

There is no real need to test “common design” because no serious person has ever hypothesized “common design”. “Common design” is just a half-assed ad hoc pseudo-rationalization adopted after the fact by those who are committed to saying “magical design” no matter what is observed.

Of course, ID advocates would probably insist on using a Dirac delta function as the prior.

Good luck persuading Mr Luskin to agree to any test, even if strongly weighted toward them. My questions to him were directed toward forcing him to declare a design mechanism—which of course he is unable to do.

I do intend to sign up for the Discovery Institute graduate-level course Ignoratio Elenchi 551, taught by Mr Luskin.

Olorin said: I do intend to sign up for the Discovery Institute graduate-level course Ignoratio Elenchi 551, taught by Mr Luskin.

“Ignoratio Elenchi”? Lemme see … ah, the “Chewbacca Defense”:

JOHNNIE COCHRAN:

Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!

Look at me. I’m a lawyer defending a major record company, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense?

No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit!

The defense rests.

I actually discussed this seriously with Doug Theobald last year. I suggested that one model of “common design” that would be incompatible with common descent would be a star tree, so instead of comparing the standard tree with isolated sequences you might compare it with a star tree. Unfortunately he couldn’t find a program that would properly evaluate likelihoods over a star tree.

Of course that’s only one model. Since “common design” implies nothing, it’s hard to test using any one model, or any set of models.

Of course, ID advocates would probably insist on using a Dirac delta function as the prior.

It took me a while to get that. “Oh – POOF!”. That’s a real geeky joke, sport. Takes me back to AC circuit impulse response analysis.

But it also works on the basis that, with creationist claims, the sky’s the limit but they have absolutely no depth.

TomS said:

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne said: I don’t know, Ogre, I think I detected some snark in TomS’s question. It’s the creationist line “if you teach kids they’re descended from apes, they’ll act like apes” - except that he’s applying it to design rather than descent.

I’m sorry that I didn’t make that “snark” more evident.

I saw the snark Immediately TomS, grinned and almost laughed. Guess the irony meter wasn’t working for some here.

Matt G said: Kids will behave like apes no matter what you tell them, but if you tell them they’re apes, they’re more likely to grow up to be intellectually honest.

Well, don’t forget the four stages of child development: (1) rug rat, (2) ankle biter, (3) curtain climber, and (4) yard ape. :)

Not to mention the occasional monkey business!

I think Intelligent Design explains why humans resemble Vulcans and Klingons more closely than they do chimpanzees.

(Apologies for this heavy handed treatment of your post.)

All imaginary beings are (by definition) intelligently designed. (And some real things are not intelligently designed, unless “intelligently designed” is so meaningless as to apply to everything). Which goes to show that intelligent design is not enough to explain anything’s existence.

“Number One, why is it that on every planet in the Federation, the inhabitants look exactly like humans except for different patterns of bumps on their heads?”

“Beats me, sir.”

How to test common design?

It’s a bit different from ‘recognizing’ common design.

ID proponents know it when they see it, but they can’t tell us how they know it.

Paley only knew that the watch laying out there on the moor was ‘designed’ because he knew, a priori, that humans design watches. (An ethereal alien, without knowledge of planet Earth, would not necessarily know that the watch was a design of ‘intelligence’. Indeed, the alien, with knowledge of carbon-based evolution, might consider the watch ‘natural’.)

To be honest, the only design we really know about is human design - tools, clothes, art, etc. (Okay, and maybe some animal tool use, and some natural ‘designs’ like Fibonacci series in flowers, etc etc etc.)

And human design leaves a signature - like the semiconductor company that left the figure of a valentine’s heart with a bite out of it, and the letters MMI, to tell Monolithic Memories Inc to “eat your heart out!”

Or an artist’s signature, or a patent number.

So testing design might be as simple as finding the signature or patent number of the Great Designer - something non-functional that says “I designed this!”.

As humans, the best we can do is assign our traits to the Great Designer - creating the Great Designer in our own image, as it were.

So back over to the ID proponents - show us a signature that says “I designed this!”.

mrg said:

“Number One, why is it that on every planet in the Federation, the inhabitants look exactly like humans except for different patterns of bumps on their heads?”

“Beats me, sir.”

This is obviously a parsimony issue, related to the make-up department budget.

John Vanko -

Of course false analogies with human design are one of the most basic ID/creationist arguments.

I think you’re being a bit unfair to birds and insects, among others, though. They do a lot of designing.

An ornithologist examining a bird’s nest created by an unknown species of bird might be able to make some good guesses about the type of bird who designed it. Buy why? Because he knows about what other birds design.

In all valid, scientific studies of “design” - archaeology, forensics, special expertise in wasp’s nests, whatever - the starting point is the nature of the designer. By definition, this implicitly includes the limitations of the designer. SETI is no different. The idea is that humans use the radio wave portion of the EM spectrum to send human-recognizable messages (messages which can also be interpreted by other species such as dogs under certain circumstances), so maybe aliens with some features in common with humans might do the same thing.

YEC used to at least specify a designer, but since that designer was omnipotent and inscrutable, i.e. “could do anything and we may never know why”, it wasn’t a useful concept. No limitations, no testable hypotheses. Maybe the Empire State Building was designed by Vishnu one minute ago, along with all my “memories” of it having been there before. All I can say is that I have an explanation for it that doesn’t require Last Thursdayism style magic.

ID/creationism is in even worse shape. It’s fundamentally a political/legal scam. The real goal was always only to make creationist claims while dissembling that they are “not religious” in order to “court proof” them for public schools. Therefore, it can’t even admit that an omnipotent and inscrutable Jehovah is the designer. So it’s forced into the absurd position of claiming that things with a good natural explanation must have been “designed” by “intelligence”, while claiming to be completely ignorant about the identity of the designer (and fending off approaches from crackpots with non-Fundamentalist Christian claims of “designer” identity) and then spinning millions upon millions of words of dissembling bafflegab in an elaborate bluff.

I agree with you.

When I first heard of ID I thought it was a joke cooked up by some YECreationists who thought they had pulled the wool over the eyes of those atheist scientists.

It went something like this: “Those atheist scientists are obligated to investigate every scientific possibility for the origin and development of life on Earth. If we posit an unknown ‘Designer’, and don’t use the name of God, then those atheist scientists will spend the rest of their careers trying to find evidence for, or disprove, our conjecture, which we know is unprovable and unfalsifiable. How can they deny it might not have been little green aliens? We will show them for the fools they are. Praise God! er … I mean the Designer!”

Mr. Vanko: Clearly, you are joking; but some have claimed to have found your signature. The argument, whose sheer stupidity makes my head hurt just from the recollection (this from a guy who loves bad puns!), goes something as follows. Since DNA is made up of letters, and human language is made up of letters, clearly DNA is a language. Well, languages mean communication, right? And who would communicate in DNA? God.

mharri said:

“but some have claimed to have found your signature.”

The reports of my identity as the Ultimate Designer are greatly exaggerated.

Nevertheless, the next time I design a new gene, I will embed the patent serial number into the radix-4 code of the junk dna, as well as the text “Ivanko designed this! Behold my might creation” just for good measure.

mrg said:

Olorin said: I do intend to sign up for the Discovery Institute graduate-level course Ignoratio Elenchi 551, taught by Mr Luskin.

“Ignoratio Elenchi”? Lemme see … ah, the “Chewbacca Defense”:

JOHNNIE COCHRAN:

Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!

Look at me. I’m a lawyer defending a major record company, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense?

No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit!

The defense rests.

But he was only visiting Endor to help bring down the shield protecting the Death Star and therefore could not be considered an Endorian native. Does this mean I just proven that ID is false???

Not to defend ID in any way, but isn’t this all moot since an Michael Behe, ironically one of the ID peddlers most cited by rank-and-file evolution-deniers, has admitted for 15+ years that “common design” (which he apparently favors as an explanation) is not mutually exclusive with common descent (which he also favors over the popular mutually contradictory “independent origins” models)? Especially since those ID peddlers who still prefer to pretend otherwise, nevertheless refuse to challenge their own on that crucial issue?

Frank J said:

Not to defend ID in any way, but isn’t this all moot since an Michael Behe, ironically one of the ID peddlers most cited by rank-and-file evolution-deniers, has admitted for 15+ years that “common design” (which he apparently favors as an explanation) is not mutually exclusive with common descent (which he also favors over the popular mutually contradictory “independent origins” models)? Especially since those ID peddlers who still prefer to pretend otherwise, nevertheless refuse to challenge their own on that crucial issue?

If consistency and coherence had anything to do with ID/creationism, this would indeed be true.

As we all know, blatant self-contradiction is entirely accepted by creationists. “Always try, or appear to be be trying, to get evolution denial into public schools” is the only standard.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on April 1, 2011 7:00 PM.

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